Fans got their money’s worth out of the week six game between the Eastport South Manor and Bellport football teams.
The three-and-a-half hour affair featured an ejected player, a seemingly devastating goal-line turnover rectified by a game-tying, last-second touchdown from a rookie quarterback followed by a game-winning field goal off the foot of a girl in overtime.
And those were just some of the highlights.
ESM moved to 5-1 in Division III play with a 31-28 overtime victory on October 19, spoiling Bellport’s homecoming festivities and solidifying the squad’s spot in the postseason, the opposite outcome of last season’s matchup with Bellport. In week seven of the 2012 season, the Sharks had a slim shot of qualifying for the playoffs when a loss at Bellport mathematically eliminated them. This year’s victory over the Clippers secured the squad’s spot among the top in the division to ensure their season will continue at least into the second week of November.
The win over the Clippers brings the Sharks’ total to five, matching the most in a single season for the program since its inception a decade ago. The program’s previous best season was in 2009 when ESM went 5-3 and reached the postseason before losing in the opening round. Five also matches the total number of wins Paul Mastronardi had amassed as head coach during the 2011 and 2012 seasons combined.
The Sharks will finish out the season with a pair of night games at home against two of the division’s weakest teams, Kings Park on October 25 and Rocky Point on November 1. Kings Park notched its first win of the season over winless Rocky Point in week six.
Heading into week seven, the Sharks remained in second place in Division III behind undefeated Miller Place. Islip follows in third.
Against Bellport, the Sharks faced a 14-point deficit in the early part of the third quarter but the squad is no stranger to having to play, and win, from behind. In the team’s four prior wins in 2013, all have come after the team trailed in the late minutes of the game.
“The kids had a lot of character today,” ESM head coach Paul Mastronardi said. “This is the fifth time we’ve done it this year. We get behind and pin ourselves in a hole but the kids play with such character and such determination that we’re able to come out on top.”
The spark for this week’s comeback came in the form of the ejection of Clipper Connor Cipp. Cipp, a member of the founding family of Bellport football and one of the team’s captains, was ejected from the game halfway through the third quarter for intentionally crushing the throat of Mark Zaharis during a tackle. After being checked out by EMTs, Zaharis returned to the game and new life was shot into the ESM squad.
After the dust settled, four penalties were handed out, two for each team, and Bellport was forced to punt on fourth down putting ESM back at its own 20. Six plays later, facing a fourth and five, the Sharks faked a punt with Pat Minogue completing a pass to Mike Bianco to keep the drive alive. Five plays later, Cole Zeller forced his way into the end zone for a 2-yard score with 41 seconds to go in the third. Nijay Brown converted her third extra-point kick of the day for a 28-21 score.
After forcing a Bellport three-and-out on the ensuing possession, the Sharks had a chance to tie the score, however, Bianco coughed up the ball at the 2 and Bellport’s Devyn Branch came up with the ball after the scrum.
Fortunately for the Sharks, the turnover didn’t cost them. The Sharks defense came up with a three-and-out stop and then on ESM’s next possession, rookie quarterback Matt Kane, who was playing in his first varsity start replacing the injured Austin Macchi, ran for a 5-yard score on fourth down with just 22 seconds left in the game.
At first, Mastronardi was adamant about going for the win with a two-point conversion attempt, however, after talking it over with his coaching staff and the players, the Sharks opted for the sure thing with Brown’s kick. Mastronardi admitted it was a “tough decision” to go with the kick rather than going for two, but that it was the right choice.
Bellport had one final hope to win the game in regulation, however, a 48-yard field goal attempt came up short and the game went into overtime.
The home team won the toss and took possession in overtime. Bellport suffered the loss of a yard on a running play followed by two incomplete passes, setting up a field goal attempt from the 21 that sailed wide.
Then it was time for the Sharks to do what they have done so well, so often, this season—seal a victory in the waning moments. After gaining 18 yards on five plays, Brown came out for the chip shot to win the game.
“I was so nervous, I was shaking,” said Brown of stepping onto the field for the game-winning field goal. “Then I realized it was so close that it was nothing.”
On the day, Bianco had 14 tackles, three for a loss, and Minogue added 10 tackles and three sacks. Zeller had 27 rushes for 114 yards.